Throughout the preseason, Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek played at least 14 guys every night. A rotation so deep was untenable during the regular season. But after years of watching Alvin Gentry and Lindsey Hunter play at least a 10-man rotation on a regular basis, the Suns seemed destined to ride the rotational turnstile yet again.
Still, the question was a good one. How deep would the rotation be, once the season started?
"Eight or nine guys would be ideal," coach Hornacek said before the season. "But with this team, where we are, that's probably not possible."
Hornacek was referring a rebuilding squad that would try to incorporate young players with a handful of veterans in a hodge-podge season sure to produce a lot more losses than wins. Throughout the preseason, the Suns had 17 players on it's active roster if you included rehabbing Malcolm Lee.
Certainly, there had to be some give. It helped when the Suns traded four players (Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee, Kendall Marshall) for none (injured Emeka Okafor and a future first round pick), but that still left 13 playable guys on the roster.
The 13 players did not include any All-Stars, no one who demanded minutes over every other player on the roster. We all knew Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic would play a lot, but who else would get 30+ minutes a night?
Looked like a deep rotation was in the offing.
Yet, a month into the season, one thing has become clear: these Phoenix Suns are running with a veteran 8-man rotation.
We haven't seen an 8-man rotation in these here parts since the mid-2000s "Dantonis" graced the court.
But here we are. Eight guys average 22+ minutes, while no one else gets more than 12. Some of that limitation on the rotation has to do with Alex Len's lingering injury. Yet, I don't see where Len will get big minutes when he's healthy. Channing Frye is rounding into form and Miles Plumlee is earning his minutes as well. That's your center rotation at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.
Another mitigating factor is the play of Gerald Green. The 6'8" long-distance shooting Green has been playing like the perfect compliment to Dragic and Bledsoe. In fact, he's giving the Suns most of what they hope Archie Goodwin can someday produce. Goodwin's ceiling is higher on defense and scoring, but he's only 19 and is just not yet earning minutes over Green.
And frankly, the only reason Ish Smith and Goodwin even get 23 minutes a game between them is due to injuries to Dragic and Bledsoe. I expect the 8-man rotation to become even more pronounced as those players stay healthy.
There will always be 9 or 10 men in the box score each night, but it sure appears that only 8 of them will get long, consistent minutes.
And the ones getting long minutes are the veterans. While Hornacek instills his imprint on the team, he's using his veterans to set the tone. Of the top 6 minute-getters, 4 of them are 27 or older (Dragic, Tucker, Green and Frye).
One wonders if the rotation will be as tight or as veteran when spring rolls around, but for now you're looking at the best players playing the most minutes every night. Something Jared Dudley wished for last year, but didn't get.